I know I know I know,………… I know……………….
Most people reading this, at least on my social media feed, will think that why we have to support the protestors is so absurdly obvious that it’s almost offensive to take it as anything more than for granted, but it’s not obvious that we have to support them. It’s certainly neither obvious to most Times of Israel readers happening upon this post, nor is it obvious to most people I know over the age of forty, nor, for anybody who cares, was it ever obvious even to me, who worries that literally millions of lives including many people I love are currently at stake. For better or worse, I’ve clearly never been shy about giving opinions and warnings, and if I truly thought it was the wrong move, come what may, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops. Such is my white male privilege, but this particular privilege I intend to keep unto my dying breath, and I wonder if that comes sooner than anybody knows.
The fact remains that protests like these are exactly how civil wars get started. Where do you even begin? All, as always, you have to do is look around the world for examples of countries who were exactly here just a blink of an eye ago – there is not nor will there be checks on Trump’s crackdowns, nor can there be any check on his opposition, this conflict can only escalate. In two weeks, we will most likely be back in our houses because coronavirus currently has opportunity to escalate to unprecedented levels and perhaps claim another hundred-thousand in even less time. When we leave the houses again, police around America may be ready with curfews and checkpoints and all the more willing to inflict violence, and their staunchest opposition will be all the more ready to challenge the violence and meet it with any manner of dissent.
Will all this escalate “merely” into the unrest of 1968 Paris and Prague? Will it escalate to 1848 Europe? Will it escalate to 1979 Iran or 1917 Russia or 1789 France? Will it escalate to 1914 or 1939? Nobody knows. But look at Syria now vs. Syria ten years ago, look at the incinerated husks of Nigeria and the Congo now vs. the mediocre repressive states they were before they were before their civil wars. Read of the decimation that happened in midcentury Vietnam, Korea, and China, before they all began to rebuild, and just look at those parts of Korea and China that never were rebuilt. Think of what might happen if the American head of state so consolidates his power in the wake of this that he can attack other countries and peoples with absolute impunity. What might come next? Massacres on the Mexican border to eliminate migrants fleeing the Global draughts and floods which our pollution caused? War with China over Hong Kong or our presence in the South China Sea? A break with Putin or his successor? Aiding right-wing forces working to overthrow social democracy in Western Europe?
America is not the exception in either its virtue or its vice, we are in no sense unique or exempt from forces of history that can so easily be understood to anyone willing to read about them in scholarship untainted by ideological dirt, and examples of how these protests could escalate into unspeakable horror proliferate all around the world’s timelines.
Chaos like this inevitably comes once in a century, and it almost inevitably comes particularly to the worlds’ nerve centers of power and prosperity, where power has grown countries so decadent, with expectations for what life can afford us so high, that we declare war upon reality and fate themselves, which inevitably demand from our lives complete affliction in all our wishes and goals.
But for whomever has been paying attention, we are already here. We know not the war, and if/which/when/where/and whom is unquestionably not of our choosing, but the great crisis of the 21st century is almost certainly upon us, and there is no going back. And even if it isn’t at exactly this historical hour, even if Biden wins in November, even if Trump somehow goes away, the forces are already unleashed. Totalitarianism is clearly unleashed upon the country, upon the world metastasizing everywhere with unprecedented intelligence gathering apparatus at the disposal of any head of state with the will to power to use it, with an unprecedented number and variety of weapons at the ready, with billions of people of every conceivable worldview reading statements on social media offensive to their deepest sensibilities every hour of every day until they are so outraged that what else could they resort to but violence to eliminate their opponents. And whether now or in 2040 when sea levels rise and a billion migrants move toward us, this jackbooted pendulum of chaos and total control is moving closer to our necks every day.
Shakespeare, of course, put it best in Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2, in what’s perhaps the most profound line he ever wrote: “if it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come, the readiness is all.” Better to prepare the country and the world now for the so almost certain cataclysms that yet will come, and be on the side of life over death.
This week’s protests, riots, counter-riots of the police (and those are most certainly riots and far more dangerous ones), are forcing the hands of us all. We either pick a side or the side picks us. Police will use the weapons at their disposal as certainly as a man with a hammer looks for a nail, but when police are unleashed upon peaceful counter-demonstrators and a head of state operates by a cult of personality that no lever of government reins in, what choice is there? Whatever misgivings one has about mass casualties unleashed by protesting in the middle of a pandemic, however scared one gets that making excuses for riots gives cover for still more violent tactics in the protests’ opposition, however much one finds people saying ‘all cops are bastards’ is the perfect way to mobilize to entrench the police as a Trumpian monolith for the duration of our lives, we’re already here. The conflict has chosen us, and any shirking of hypervigilance against it is a state of denial.
As always, I seem to be a reluctant progressive ally who would far rather settle for stability and an uninterrupted life over betting it all over the chance of better lives that only will happen in a yet abstract future in a distant part of the globe for people I have little yet reason to care for. But even if I’ll never stop being the annoying realist voice in the side of dangerous idealists for whom I obviously hold a certain measure of contempt, I’ll send myself to hell before I shirk a moral responsibility to aid in the prevention of the same authoritarian trends from which my grandparents escaped by the skin of their teeth and killed so many family members of whom I know nothing. If and when the antecedents of today’s protest movements embrace the same authoritarian urges the American right currently does (and it’s probably a when, ever if not for another generation or two….) , I’ll wash my hands of them too, but it’s so, so far off yet. So in the meantime….
The people in protests now have so thoroughly committed to their cause that they are now, as generations of them were in the past without sufficient credit, our first line of defense against the villains of history. Heroes are people of action, who do not stop to think of what they might sabotage, charging into battle heedless of consequence and causing nearly as much death as the amount of lives they save. But that kind of triage ultimately what heroism requires. They saw long ago what it took me far too long to see.
We are already here.
These protestors are heroes.
Black Lives Matter.